For more excellent AS-211 pictures, go to user “Philippine Fly Boy”‘s Photo Stream at flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/7th_tactical_fighter_squadron_philippine_air_force/
It turns out that our armed forces and local companies have done some nice improvements on the S-211 aircrafts we have in service today. But first, just a short history: The Philippine Air Force (PhAF) ordered the SIAI-Marchetti S-211 in 1989, and received deliveries for 24 of these aircrafts from 1989 to 1994. Almost immediately, these were pressed into service not only as Basic Jet Trainers, but as Attack Aircrafts as well as its secondary role. They were re-designated locally to add an “A” to its S-211 designation to signify their secondary role, and also was nicknamed as “Warrior”.
‘Project Falcon Programs’
In 2005, the PhAF retired its remaining 10 F-5A/B aircrafts from active service, and the AS-211 was pressed into service for the defense of Philippine airspace as well as a (supposedly) temporary or stopgap measure. That same year, the PhAF leadership initiated some measures to try to improve the AS-211’s combat capability. The first of these was called “Project Falcon” which sought to replace the AS-211’s ISIS D211 gun sight which were then having reliability problems and interfering with the aircrafts ability to carry out its missions. The sight was to be replaced with the Norsight Optical Sight taken from retired F-5 aircrafts. The program proved to be successful and provided the AS-211 with an accurate and reliable, albeit rudimentary sight. Note the basic Norsight Optical Sight on an F-5A’s cockpit in the picture below:
This was followed by the “Project Falcon Uniform” program which sought to lessen the overall visibility of the aircraft, useful for air-to-air combat, by repainting them with a 2-tone Light and Dark Ghost Gray paint scheme along with low visibility markings. Here’s an example of an AS-211 with its low visibility paint scheme blending with its background:
“Project Falcon Hear” sought to optimize the air-ground communications on the AS-211 by upgrading and installing on them the AN/ARC-34 UHF radios from the F-5A/B. This enables the AS-211 to be more effective in terms of providing Close Air Support as they will have better communications with ground troops during strike operations.
‘Belly Gun Pod’
“Project Falcon Push” was initiated to explore the possibility of using a 20mm Gun Pod on the underside of the AS-211. These gun pods were fabricated from the 20mm guns of the retired F-5s, and already were in service with the PhAF’s OV-10 Broncos. However, the project didn’t seem to push thru as none were eventually fitted to the AS-211s.
Aerotech Industries Philippines, Inc. (AIPI) instead designed and developed a gun pod to be installed on the underside of the AS-211 to enable it to be a little bit more effective in its air-to-air and strike roles. Each Pod is equipped with .50 cal Machine Gun (MG), corresponding .50 cal ammunition and an automatic charger.
Here is a close look at the MG without its external pod in a photo taken during the PhAF Independence Day Exhibit at the SM Mall of Asia last June 2013, and based on the picture it seems to be a Browning M3 .50 cal Machine Gun. A what seems to be the automatic charger mechanism can be seen above the MG. The Browning M3 is a modified M2 MG designed to be fired from aircrafts, with no sights, a bigger buffer system and a higher rate of fire at around 1,200 rounds per minute. It is possible that these M3s were taken from retired F-86 aircrafts that were in service way before in the 1950s. The display also showed that there are approximately 240 rounds of .50 cal ammunition available for the gun pod:
Other projects to improve further the AS-211’s capabilities were initiated in 2007 as reported on the PhAF’s 2007 annual accomplishment report, but unfortunately the status of these are not so clear as of now due to lack of additional details. Below are some of them:
* GPS Level Bombing – This is kind of hazy, it could refer to making bombing runs with GPS aid, or perhaps using the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) which is a GPS-guided bomb. There are reports of the PhAF being provided by the United States of such weapons, but these are unconfirmed, and also so far only the OV-10 has been reported to have such capability, not the AS-211.
* Large Rocket Integration – The PhAF 2007 Report indicated that they were working to have the High Velocity Aircraft Rocket (HVAR) integrated into the AS-211, and another report stated that ZUNI 5-inch rockets were the ones being tested with the aircraft. Both are large rockets with 5-inch diameter and weighing around 60 kg, and would provide a lot of punch for the AS-211 for its strike missions. However, no further details are available as of now, hence it’s hard to determine the status of this project. Also note that the HVAR saw action in World War 2 and were produced only until 1955, hence it would be an interesting story if the PhAF turns out to still have FUNCTIONING HVARs in its inventory as any should’ve been way past their shelf-lives … Unless they were refurbished, or manufactured as new. Note that an HVAR-type weapon is OFTEN seen during static displays of the AS-211.
* Sidewinder Integration – The Sidewinder is an air-to-air missile, and the PhAF does have the AIM-9B versions which are way past their shelf-lives by now, unless they have been refurbished. If they were refurbished, it would be a sensible thing to have these integrated into the AS-211s also to improve their air combat capability. Again, just like the HVAR, it is often seen with the AS-211 during static displays, but again, no further solid details are available as of now.
Below is a picture taken also at the 2013 PhAF Independence Day exhibit showing the AIM-9B Sidewinder and the HVAR-like weapon on display alongside the AS-211. Normally when you put weapons besides an aircraft during these static displays, it means that the aircraft is using it, and either that is true for the AS-211, or at the very least it means that the weapons are under development for use with the aircraft.
Interestingly also, a user reported in a forum how Aerotech, the same company that developed the .50 cal belly pod for the AS-211, was seen displaying mock ups of both the Sidewinder and the HVAR-like weapon at their booth during a recent Defense show. But of course, unless there is a written confirmation from an OFFICIAL or reliable source done somewhere, then the status of the above developments are purely just speculation as of now.
It is fantastic news indeed that the PhAF and local company Aerotech has come up with these improvements in order to improve the capability of the AS-211 despite the limited budget they have had to work with. It makes one truly proud that Filipino ingenuity is still able to shine thru even under adversity.
Whether more innovations were done with the AS-211 after the “Project Falcon” programs and the Belly Gun Pod still remains to be seen. I guess we will just have to wait for more details to be made available, hopefully that will come in the very near future.
 Arms, Transparency and Security in Asia, SIPRI Research Report No. 13, p. 113, http://books.sipri.org/files/RR/SIPRIRR13.pdf
 SIAI-Marchetti AS-211 Warrior, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/philippines/as-211.htm
 PAF to retire F-5 fleet, http://www.philstar.com/nation/299064/paf-retire-f-5-fleet
 Belly Pod for PAF’s S-211, http://pena-abad.blogspot.com/2010/09/belly-pod-for-paf-s-211.html
 Browning M3, http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Browning_M3
 PAF S-211: news, status, updates, upgrades; updates, discussions p. 3, http://s3.zetaboards.com/Defense_Philippines/topic/832317/3/
 US smart bombs used in Sulu attack, http://www.rappler.com/nation/2910-us-smart-bombs-used-in-sulu-attack
 High Velocity Aircraft Rocket, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Velocity_Aircraft_Rocket
 Precision missiles acquisition of PAF, http://s3.zetaboards.com/Defense_Philippines/single/?p=8069644&t=836453